At least Matt didn’t seem to be bearing a grudge against his mum. I heard footsteps coming up the stairs, and then Carol was in the doorway.
‘Hello, Laura. Oh, have you just got them to sleep? I’ll be quiet.’
Her voice was low, and neither Josh in his cot nor Ella on my shoulder stirred.
‘Don’t worry, they’re pretty robust. Sometimes I think they take after Matt in the sleeping department, they sleep through the loudest noises. Then one of us coughs, and it’s baby Armageddon.’
‘Well, it’s true Matthew’s always liked his sleep.’
‘I think ‘like’ is an understatement. If it was an Olympic sport he’d have fifty-seven gold medals. Would you like a cuddle with Ella? Come and sit on the sofa.’
Carol couldn’t resist, and she sat down next to me as I passed the sleeping Ella over to her. Her arthritic hands found it hard to hold them comfortably, and she always worried about dropping them when she was standing up, but sitting down was easier, and I gave her as much opportunity to hold her grandchildren as I could. She looked down at Ella for a while, then up at me, speaking in the quiet tone she had used since coming into the room.
‘Did you hear any of what I was saying to Matthew?’
I nodded. ‘Yeah, I was listening, I’m afraid.’
‘Oh no, dear, I’m glad. I won’t say anything now, but I’d like to call you tomorrow, while he’s at work, if I may. I’m worried about all this.’
‘Oh Carol, of course. Ring me anytime.’
The voices from upstairs made me wonder if Lau and Mum were hatching some plot between them, so I quickly cut some slices of cake and made some more tea, put it all on a tray and hurried up the stairs. Their voices were too low for me to hear what they were saying, but by the time I got into the room, they had stopped speaking.
Any further conversation was curtailed by the sound of Matt’s footsteps coming up the stairs. He came into the room with a tray with more tea and cake on it.
‘Seconds for me and Mum, firsts for Lau. This cake is superb, Lau.’
‘What a surprise. Did Beth ever make a cake that wasn’t?’
‘Ha ha, not that I can remember. It would have made News at Ten, caused the global cake markets to crash. Babies snoozing? Lazy bastards.’
OK, I was trying to watch my language around them, but seriously? All the bloody time? Give me a day off, for fuck’s sake.
‘Oh, sorry, Lau, but that’s not really a bad one, is it?’
‘Every little one adds up, dear.’
Yeah, there was definitely some kind of womanly bonding going on.
‘Yes, Mum. Just can’t get a break round here at the moment. Might have to lock myself in the bathroom and say all the rude words I can think of.’
‘That might take you a while, flower. Do you want to stay for dinner, Carol?’
‘Oh, no dear, thank you for asking though. Rose is going to call round when she’s ready to go. She’ll not be long, she spent the day with Declan and Amy, and when she got home she realised she’d still got Charlie’s giraffe in her bag, so she just rang to see if I wanted a little jaunt.’
‘Oh no, not Gigi! Disaster, good job she noticed before bedtime.’
‘Yes, it is. But she said she wasn’t going to be long.’
‘Yeah, right, like Rose ever just popped round to anyone’s, let alone when Charlie and Tom are there, ripe for a good grannying.’
‘Well, we’ll see. If my tummy rumbles too loudly, I may have to take you up on your offer.’
‘You’re always welcome, Carol.’
We were all being jolly and happy and avoiding the issue, which was fine by me, that was just the way I wanted it to stay, everybody avoiding saying anything about anything.
The doorbell rang, and I went downstairs to let Rose in. Even she was trying to get in on the act, and started in straight away.
‘Hello Matt. What have you been up to with that brother of yours?’
I totally ignored the question, kissed her on the cheek.
‘Hi Rose, Mum’s just coming, she’s all ready for you.’
‘I’ll call you tomorrow, then, dear.’
‘Thanks, Carol, I’d like to chat about it.’
‘They’ll sort it out, I’m sure, but they might need a few nudges. Bye bye you beautiful girl.’
This last was to Ella, who had opened her eyes and given her granny a huge grin.
Lau and I had a quiet evening, once the babies were in bed. I was wondering how I was going to keep everyone at arm’s length while I got my head around things, and Lau would have been worrying about me as well as worrying about whether or not she was pregnant and worrying about how she was going to fit everything in that she needed to do tomorrow.
Matt and I spent the rest of the evening lost in our own thoughts. I suspected Matt was thinking about what his mum had said. He hated being told what to do, but once he’d got past his initial annoyance, he sometimes listened in retrospect. I was worried about him, and also at the back of my mind was the constant ‘what if I’m pregnant’ niggle, which just wouldn’t go away however much I tried to distract myself. What if I was pregnant? I was going to need everyone in the family, or I really would go under.
My mind wandered over what Mum had said. I didn’t know how she could have got it so completely wrong. Jay and I had rubbed along together OK over the last few years, but before I was ill the first time we hadn’t been close, and it seemed like Jay preferred it that way. I couldn’t begin to imagine him being jealous of me. It was laughable; he had always made it clear that he valued strength and athleticism over intelligence and wit, and nothing seemed to have changed in that respect.
Lau eventually decided to go to bed. I wasn’t tired, and didn’t want to spend hours tossing and turning.
‘Do you mind if I don’t come up just yet?’
‘Course not, flower. You didn’t get up till the crack of lunch anyway. Wake me up when you get in, if I’m not with the babies.’
‘Just want to make sure I give you a huge cuddle before we go to sleep.’
And believe it or not, all I wanted was a huge cuddle. This morning’s antics had been awesome, but apart from knowing it would freak Lau right out to try anything now, I just wanted her to fold me up and show me how much she loved me and believed in me.
‘Oh Lau, sounds bloody perfect. Might not be that long after all, then.’
‘See you later, my love.’
The next morning Matt left for work, to my eyes more reluctantly than usual. He didn’t have specific hours, and was still officially part time, usually going in mid-morning, but today he hung around finding things to do that didn’t really need doing. I understood his reluctance, it would be hard to go back somewhere you’d thought you had a chance of escaping, but then feeling like you may never be able to leave. I didn’t know how to help him, and it frustrated me.
The next morning I took ages getting ready for work. My feet felt like lead; it was as if I’d seen the escape route but had discovered at the last minute it had been blocked off. The thought of going back to GreenScreen, not just today, but every day for the foreseeable, was seeming less and less attractive.
Not long after Matt left, I had a text from Beth.
‘Same. Saw Carol yesterday. No change.’
‘Did she say what she thinks?’
‘Yeh, but M not listening.’
‘Need 2b devious.’
‘Really? Not sure. Wot u thinking?’
‘Use Cal. Science homework. Get him here?’
‘Worth a try, but think he’ll see thru it.’
‘Maybe. Step 1 tho. Will txt him now.’
A bit later the same morning, I had a text from Amy.
‘Wot’s going on w Jay n Matt? Rose said big fall out?’
‘Yeh, J said some stuff, upset M.’
‘Really? Wot he say?’
‘Long story. Fancy coming round?’
‘Gr8. Gimme a minute or 60 to get C & T ready. Cu soon.’
Once I was there it was business as usual, and I managed to drag my mood off the floor with some banter and some doughnuts, but as I looked ahead to the projects and meetings that were in store over the coming months, I couldn’t help feeling my heart sinking. I’d done it all before, I was bored with it.
Half way through the morning, Beth started with the texting. She always thinks she’s being subtle, but she’s as transparent as glass.
‘Matty, ru around 2nite? Cal cld do with help, science homework.’
‘Yeh, sure, get him 2 FaceTime me.’
‘Might need hands on?’
‘Bring him round then.’
And then radio silence was resumed while Beth rethought her strategy.
My day got worse when Phil asked me to talk to one of the new employees about her work on a project. As in tell her if she didn’t pull her socks up she was history. Fuck I hated that shit, it wasn’t the way I did things, but now that I was more of a manager than a team leader, and didn’t just have my own team to do with as I wished, I was more constrained by what Phil wanted me to do. She had been warned before, and now I had to get all heavy on her arse.
Amy had just left, after a big catch up where I filled her in on what had happened with Matt and Jay, when I had a call from Carol.
‘Hello, dear. Do you have time to talk?’
‘Yes, of course. I might have to desert you at any time for a small crying person, but at the moment they’re happy in their baby seats. We were just having a game of peekaboo.’
‘Oh that’s good. I’m glad you’re getting a bit of peace.’
‘Amy’s just been here with Charlie and Tom. Part of me thinks I’m better off having my two both together. She’s really got her hands full with hers, especially now Charlie’s walking.’
‘Maybe wait until you’ve got two toddlers before thinking you’ve got it easier, dear.’
‘Yes, you could be right.’
‘Now, Laura, I just wanted to talk to you about this silly argument. You were there, weren’t you? What exactly did Jameson say?’
‘Oh, I’m not sure I can remember the exact words. There was this talk about a job at Raiders, Matt asked Jay for a number of someone to talk to about it, Jay wouldn’t give it to him, at first because he didn’t think he should be disturbed on a Sunday, then he ended up saying he didn’t think Matt should go for the job because it would be awkward when Matt messed about and flirted. Matt got upset, told Jay he wouldn’t go for the job, and that was kind of it.’
‘Hm, that’s about what Beth said. Laura, they haven’t argued like this for a long time. When Matthew was ill and Jameson moved up to Stafford, Matthew was overwhelmed. I won’t say they haven’t had a cross word since, because they’re so different, they often have different opinions, but they’ve been much closer than they were before.’
‘I’ve tried reminding Matt about what Jay did for him. He’s not exactly open to thinking about it at the moment.’
‘No. I think all this has stirred up a bit of deep emotion for both of them. Before Matthew was diagnosed with MS, he and Jameson didn’t see each other very much. Jameson never really understood Matthew when they were younger; he was such a physical boy, always out playing football or rugby, and he used to tease Matthew terribly because he always had his head stuck in a book or a knew how to do his sums. Matthew looked up to his brother, and the teasing hurt him, although he tried not to show it. He tried so hard to match Jameson physically, but he just never had the build for it, or the aptitude for sport. I suppose he’s more like me, whereas Jameson is more like his father. When they got older they lived in different worlds – Jameson with his rugby and Matthew with his computers. They got on well enough when they met up, but it didn’t happen that often. I don’t think Jameson realised how much he loved Matthew until he nearly died, and I don’t think Matthew realises how scared Jameson was, how upset he was, how much soul-searching he did while Matthew was in hospital.’
‘So what do you think happened on Saturday?’
‘Well, it’s just a guess, but I don’t think they ever resolved their jealousies. Jameson knows he’s not as clever as Matthew, and it grates with him. Matthew has always tried to be as strong and tough as Jameson, but he falls short. I think when their two worlds are separate, they get on just fine. Being with the family is fine too, there’s a lot of common ground. But Jameson seeing Matthew becoming part of his sport world, the world where he knows a lot, and where Matthew has the potential to show him up and know more about something, that would threaten Jameson’s security. I don’t expect he even thought about it, he just reacted, a sort of automatic fighting response. That’s why Matthew has reacted so badly as well, it’s taken both of them back to when they were younger.’
‘Matt did say he felt like he was ten, when Jay teased him for knowing all the planets or something.’
‘Oh. That almost confirms it then, dear.’
‘Well it would explain it, Carol, but what on earth are we going to do about it?’
‘I don’t know if there’s a quick solution. I think these things take time. Jameson won’t even talk about it, not to me, not to Beth. I don’t expect Matthew’s much better.’
‘Not so as you’d notice. I suppose I’ll just keep plugging away. It’s exhausting, though. And the longer it goes on, the more stubborn both of them are going to get.’
‘Yes, the stubborn streak is another factor, I suppose. Perhaps we should get our heads together properly, you, me and Beth, and see what we can think up.’
‘Maybe we’ll be able to think of something. I’ll talk to Beth later.’
‘Alright dear. How are you coping with it all?’
‘Oh I’m alright. To be honest, Ella and Josh keep me so busy I’m just letting Matt get on with it to some extent.’
And I might be pregnant, so that was taking some of my worrying space away from Matt’s concerns, but I wasn’t going to be saying that to Carol right now.
‘That’s the best way, dear. You will call me if you want to talk about it, won’t you?’
‘Yeah, sure, and I’ll let you know what Beth says.’
The afternoon passed, my mum came over for a quick visit, then I started getting dinner ready, did more feeding, changing and washing, and the time flew by.
The employee bollocking didn’t go well. There was no gentle way of saying what I had to say, and she cried buckets, and I told her to go home and think about things. I didn’t know if she was going to come back, and a part of me was envious of her. Shit I needed to get out of there, it was seriously doing my bloody nut. I spent the rest of the day sitting in my office, writing up the disciplinary report and Googling jobs, wishing I wasn’t there. I sent a few links to my home email, then I looked up and it was time to go.
I hurried home, and shut the front door behind me, as if it was a portcullis I had just let down to protect us from marauding hordes.
‘Hey Lau. Come here and give me a cuddle, woman.’
Lau walked towards me with an eyebrow raised and did as she was told.
‘That’s better. Just needed someone to obey my every command. Bloody subordinates, don’t know their place half the time.’
‘Ah, poor Matt, have the underlings been rebelling again?’
‘Yeah. It doesn’t pay to be a democratic leader, they just take the piss. I had to bloody discipline someone today. Hated every bloody second.’
‘What, tell someone off?’
Lau knew I didn’t work like that, and she stroked my face sympathetically.
‘Yeah. They’d fucked up a contract, not for the first time. I’m usually more of a ‘let’s learn from our mistakes’ kind of guy, but Phil wanted to be hard-line about it, and so I had to do it. Made her cry.’
‘Oh, Matt. That’s terrible.’
‘Yeah. Still, now I’m home, in the arms of my bloody awesome wife, with, is that a waft of chicken casserole I smell? And freshly wiped baby bum? Hopefully not from the same source.’
‘Yes, it is a chicken casserole, and yes the babies are clean and tidy awaiting a kiss bestowed by their doting father.’
‘Whoa, you’ve been busy. Bet you haven’t made anyone cry, though.’
‘There have been some tears, although I’m not sure I can claim full responsibility for all of them. Mum was round earlier, she helped with the casserole, peeled some veg.’
I didn’t really want to get into any discussions Lau might have had with April. I was going to have to be careful what I talked about with anyone, to avoid being told what people thought vicariously.
‘Yeah, fine. Saw Amy earlier as well.’
This included Amy, but Lau seemed disinclined to tell me anything about it, so I assumed they’d had a good gossip about me and left it at that.
I left out my conversation with Carol, until I could think of how to tell Matt we’d been discussing him. He was bound to know we had been, but it irritated him when he found out about it.
‘I got a text from Beth this morning, she’s so obvious, some boll – er – rubbish about helping Cal with his science homework. Thinks she’s going to trick me into going round there. I said if Cal needs help he can FaceTime me, or she can bring him here.’
I didn’t say any more, just gave him a sympathetic look and squeezed him tight. This was going to affect the whole family until it was resolved. Cal and Iz would miss Matt a lot, and as I thought about it, I realised that Dec would find it hard to know who to support. It was something else to throw into the mix, but not right now, when Matt was still refusing to communicate about it.
I didn’t know how much longer she was going to be able to remain supportive but silent, Lau always had an opinion, but I appreciated the effort so far.
‘Yeah, well. OK, babies to kiss, first job on the old man’s to do list.’
So we had a bit of baby time, both of us chatting to them, saying nursery rhymes, Lau singing, watching them wriggle and giggle, seeing them smile. When they were behaving themselves, they were the best therapy.
I watched as Matt bent down to first Josh and then Ella, loving as always to see them smile and wriggle as he cuddled them. Matt always chatted to both of them about all sorts of things – football, food, family – as if they understood everything he said, and he had their complete attention.
He sat down, Ella on his knee, as I scooped up Josh and sat next to them and we spent some time bouncing babies and talking to them. Both of them were developing distinct personalities. Josh was more laid back, and would usually wait patiently for his more assertive sister to have her needs met. Josh would gaze intensely into my eyes while he fed, focussed entirely on me, whereas Ella would look around, everything distracting her. I found myself wondering how their different characters would develop as they grew up, and whether they would argue like Matt and Jay had. It almost brought tears to my eyes to imagine them not being as close as they were – they reached out to each other constantly, and looked at each other when they were in their separate beds, their daily cycles seemingly linked as well. I needed to say something to Matt.
‘Your mum rang me today.’
I so didn’t want to talk about this.
‘She’s quite upset about this thing with Jay.’
I didn’t want Mum and Lau talking about me when I wasn’t there. I didn’t want them doing it when I was there either. Lau knew that, she knew how I felt about ‘being discussed’.
‘It’s nothing to do with her.’
‘She’s your mum. She’s just worried.’
‘Had a good gossip, did you?’
I couldn’t help it, the sarcastic tone. I was pissed off.
‘Hey, don’t take it out on me. I was thinking, just now, what if Josh and Ella fall out when they’re older? I’d be destroyed.’
Maybe if Matt could see it from a parent’s point of view, it might give him a different perspective.
She was trying to make me see it from someone else’s point of view, but I wanted to see it from my own. I wasn’t going to talk to her about it, not now. Maybe not ever.
‘Leave it, Lau. So, Josh, Spurs have got a Monday night game with Sunderland, shall we watch it together?’
And that was the end of that conversation, although I hoped Matt might at least think about it.
After dinner I started to watch the football while Lau did an evening feed. As she was starting to get them ready to go to bed, Dec’s ring tone pinged on my phone. I’d been expecting to hear from him all day, but he’d shown remarkable restraint, until now.
‘Seriously? Not speaking to Jay? How old ru again?’
I could just see it all happening, the family network springing into action on Mission Matty. Beth had tried, so it was Dec’s turn next, and then when he had no joy it would be Mum, then they might get Nico to give it a go, and before long they would have all had a turn. Well good luck to them. It wasn’t going to work, because it was different this time; I had Lau.
He looked at his phone, then tossed it back onto the table with a sigh. It was so like when I first knew him, when he got so exasperated with people checking up on him.
‘Who was that?’
‘Dec. He’s wading in now. They can all just piss off and leave me alone.’
‘What did he say?’
‘Nothing. Just talk.’
‘Oh. Say goodnight to Daddy, Ella.’
Matt kissed her gently and stroked her hair.
‘I’ll be back down for Josh in a minute.’
‘I can bring him up if you like.’
‘No, you watch the football, I won’t be long.’
While Lau was upstairs, the FaceTime tone went on my iPad. I nearly ignored it, but remembered my text conversation with Beth earlier, and relented, hoping it would be Cal rather than his mum. I pressed the button, and Cal appeared, to my relief and mild surprise. I’d thought it might just be a ruse to get me over there, but it seemed there had been some truth in it.
While I was upstairs I heard the FaceTime tone go on Matt’s iPad. I thought he might ignore it, but heard:
‘Mum said you’d help me with my science homework?’
‘Sure, mate. What is it?’
‘OK, what have you got to do?’
As Matt continued talking to Cal, I relaxed a little. Matt wasn’t so angry that he wouldn’t talk to anyone, then. He never liked letting Cal down, but the way he’d been the last couple of days, I’d wondered if he would really let his anger encompass all of Jay’s family, not just Jay. If he was talking to Cal, there was some hope. Maybe Beth had been more perceptive than I’d thought.
Helping Cal diverted me for a while, although it meant I missed the football, but I never really minded with Cal. He could be a grouchy little git sometimes, but once you got him out of his shell, he was really interested in things, and once he understood something, this look came over his face, as if he’d just been give the key to a magic door, and it was awesome. It made me realise why teaching is appealing to some people.
It didn’t take that long to help Cal, although while I was talking to him I had two more texts from Dec, which I ignored until I’d finished Facetiming. Once I’d said goodbye to Cal, I picked up my phone.
‘Seriously, Matt. Get over it.’
‘U know what happens when u go all silent. I’ll be round in a few.’
I just wasn’t having any of it. Dec was bound to be siding with Jay, and I didn’t need the Summers treatment, hadn’t since I’d found Lau. She was my rock, my safe place, my confessional.
‘The whole lot of you can just fuck right off. Don’t need any of you. Stay the fuck out of it.’
When I came back downstairs, Matt had finished his FaceTime and was texting. He didn’t look up at me, his body language telling me he didn’t want to talk about who or what he was texting. When I went down after putting Josh to bed, he was watching the football again. He looked up and held his arm out, patting the seat beside him. I sat beside him as he put his arm round me, and rested my head on his shoulder as he watched the football.
‘It’s nearly finished, Lau.’ He indicated the football match.
‘Don’t worry, I’ll just sit here and veg for a bit.’
I wasn’t vegging, I was racking my brains for ways of getting Matt to talk, and coming up with nothing. Matt was so obstinate that the longer it went on, the more it was just going to be ‘a thing’ that had no reason behind it, but was just absorbed into Matt’s way of being. That couldn’t happen, it would be devastating to Matt and his whole family. I sat, leaning up against Matt, thinking hard. When the doorbell rang, it made me jump. Matt grunted.
I knew who it would be. Summers, party of one, eager for a fun all-nighter.
‘Just leave it.’
I’d told Lau before about our ‘not leaving you alone’ bollocks, but I don’t think she’d completely got it.
‘It’ll be Dec, he’s just texted.’
‘So why are we ignoring it?’
She pushed herself to her feet to go and answer the door, but I caught her hand and pulled her back to the sofa, more roughly than I’d intended in my desperation not to let Dec in. Yeah, thinking about it now, maybe I was scared about what he was going to make me face if he got in, but at the time I was just angry and defiant.
I swung round to face him, annoyed at his tone of voice and at being manhandled.
‘Hey. It’s my front door as well as yours. Don’t push me around.’
Matt had the decency to look ashamed.
I was ashamed of myself. I never got physical with people, least of all Lau. I really was desperate.
‘Sorry, Lau. I just don’t want to see anyone. Please?’
Lau looked at me, and must have seen something in my face that convinced her, as she agreed.
‘Alright, for now. But this can’t go on, Matt. I’m not cutting us off from your entire family so you don’t have to face people.’
The doorbell rang again, and my phone pinged. I ignored it. Then Lau’s phone went too. Oh the bastard was upping the stakes, thinking he could involve Lau in our little game.
Lau got to her feet again and headed to the hallway.
‘Matt, I’m going to answer the door. I won’t let him in, but he knows we’re here, he’ll just keep on until we answer, and he’ll wake the babies up.’
Well that was true. I sighed.
‘You’re right. But don’t let him persuade you.’
‘Hey, you don’t have dibs on stubbornness. Don’t worry.’
I heard Lau open the door. She can’t have opened it more than a centimetre, or Dec would have been in like Flynn and we wouldn’t have got rid of him for weeks.
I reached the door as the bell rang again, and opened it. Dec moved towards me, but stopped, looking confused, when I blocked his way.
‘Hi Dec. Sorry, Matt doesn’t want to talk to anyone.’
‘Oh. Yeah, heard that one before.’
Dec raised his voice so it would reach Matt in the living room.
‘Tell him I’m a stubborner fucking bastard than he is, I’ll keep going all night until he talks to me. I’ve done it before, more than once.’
‘Please don’t, Dec. I’m here, Matt will talk to me, we’ll be fine. He’ll talk to you another time, I’m sure, just don’t push it.’
Oh I loved her so much. She was loyal and good and everything I needed.
Dec frowned, then nodded. When he spoke again, it was at his normal volume.
‘Are you OK, Lau?’
‘I hate this, I can’t take sides.’
‘Call us if you need us.’
I nodded, throat closing with emotion as I closed the door. I sniffed and tried to wipe my eyes so Matt didn’t see. To cover it up, I went into the kitchen to make a cup of tea, but a wave of sadness washed over me and I started crying properly. I felt torn; I wanted to support Matt, but he needed his family, we all needed each other, and if things didn’t improve soon, it was going to tear us apart. Matt’s family were so closely entwined, that if one of them wasn’t there, they could all crumble. If I tried to push things, he was going to see me as against him too. I stood in the middle of the room with my arms folded tightly around me, trying to pull myself together.
I heard the door close, and then Lau went into the kitchen and put the kettle on. I wanted to say thanks for sticking up for me, so I wandered in to help her.
‘Hey, Lau, did I hear the kettle go –’
Lau was standing with her back to me, arms tightly folded, head bowed, shoulders heaving.
‘Oh fuck, you’re crying.’
I quickly went to her and pulled her into my arms.
‘Ssh, Lau. Oh please don’t, baby.’
This was all such a mess. I couldn’t handle Lau being this upset, and now she was crying harder, sobbing onto my chest.
‘Oh angel, don’t. Ssh.’
I’d used ‘baby’ and ‘angel’, my two best comfort words, and neither of them had made any difference at all. I hugged her as tightly as I could and kissed the top of her head as she wept, until she’d cried it all out and she shuddered to a halt, breathing hotly into my t-shirt.
‘I’m sorry Lau. I didn’t think about what all this is doing to you, and with worrying about the test in a few days as well.’
‘Did you hear what Dec said?’
Yeah, I got it, he wasn’t going to give up.
‘What, about him being a stubborner fucking bastard? Yeah, I get that, old news. I heard what you said too. Thanks.’
‘No, I didn’t mean that. I meant about him not taking sides. It affects all of us, will affect all of us for a long time if you carry on.’
I loosened my hold on her a little so I could look down at her. Throughout the day and into the evening, I had been getting more and more pissed off with my fucking family’s claims on me, what they thought they had a right to say or do. Things weren’t the same as they used to be, but they still thought they bloody owned me. I was just so tired of it, tired of fighting it and tired of fighting about it.
‘I know that. Maybe it’s time …’
I wasn’t quite ready to announce my as-yet-incomplete proposal, and backed away from what I’d been about to blurt out.
‘… I’m just still going over it all, Lau.’
He’d stopped himself in the middle of a sentence, but I could almost feel the weight behind the words he didn’t say, and a spike of fear shot through me. Once Matt got an idea in his head, it was nigh-on impossible to shake it out. Usually it was something that didn’t really matter, like building a fire pit in the garden, or spending an afternoon at Diggerworld, but there was so much more at stake this time. What was he considering?
‘Maybe it’s time for what?’
She had stiffened in my arms.
‘Nothing. I’m angry, I’m just thinking about stuff. Options.’
This was now properly scary. If Matt was starting to make decisions on his own, without consulting me, there was no telling what he’d end up doing, or wanting to do. Once he’d convinced himself about a course of action, it would be really hard to talk him out of it. Matt was much more flexible when he was at the talking stage of making his mind up.
‘Do I have any say in these options?’
She searched my face for what the fuck I was talking about. It was all just feelings at the moment, I hadn’t had a chance to put words to any of it, but now I had to, because I needed to explain it to Lau.
‘Well, of course, but not about how I feel. And how I feel at the moment is my bloody family is more trouble than they’re worth, and I’d be better off without them.’
Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God. He was going to ditch the family in some way, separate himself, and that meant all of us, from them.
‘Matt!’ I pushed myself away from him, looking at him in horror. ‘You can’t mean that.’
‘I’m still just thinking, Lau.’
I wasn’t going to get into discussing it, it was just how I was feeling.
Despite his words, there was a lift to his chin that defied me to try to contradict him. I remembered this feeling – I’d faced it in his flat when I’d seen a pile of pills and a bottle of whisky, and things had hung in the balance. In a panic, I tried to find something, anything, that would convince him not to make that final decision. I could almost see the years ahead, locked in a feud with Jay that had such small origins but would be so devastating to us all. Devastating to Matt and me and our children.
‘Please talk to Jay before you decide anything like that. Please try and sort it out with him.’
‘I can’t even think about him, let alone talk to him at the moment.’
This was nothing to do with Jay, none of his business. He wasn’t the only one who could decide who was or wasn’t a part of his family. People could be out as well as in, and perhaps it was time I just got out and broke away, got rid of their interfering nagging for good. At that moment, the thought was extremely appealing. Just me, Lau and the babies.
The calm tone that Matt was talking about this in was more scary than if he’d yelled. It chilled me to the core. Matt without his family wasn’t something I’d ever thought I’d have to contemplate; they were part of him, they almost defined him, they were all in his thoughts and controlled his actions one way or another for a lot of his waking hours. And now I might be pregnant – if I had another baby I’d need them all, or I’d go under like I nearly had before. It couldn’t happen. I wasn’t going to let it happen. He needed them, and I needed them. This wasn’t just about him any more. I walked over to the counter and picked up the car keys.
‘I’m going out.’
‘I won’t be long.’
‘Where are you going?’
Oh what the fuck was she up to now?
‘Back soon. Need bread.’
Before Matt could react I ran out of the door and got in the car, started the engine and reversed onto the road. I expected him to run after me, maybe try to stop me, but I drove away before he could catch up with me.
It was an obvious lie. We had tons of bread. That shocked me more than anything – Lau had never lied to me. I started to go after her, to, I don’t know, jump in the car, stop her, find out what she was going to do, but a cry from upstairs reminded me that she’d got me good and proper. I couldn’t leave, because I couldn’t leave Josh and Ella.
I took some deep breaths as I heard the car reverse off the drive and pull away. Then I went upstairs to see what the fuss was about up there, but all was quiet, as if neither of them had made a sound. I sat up there for a while, in the dark, listening to their noises, trying to let everything go, trying not to think about it all.
God I loved these two tiny people; they were all I needed, them and Lau. We were a family, a unit. As long as we were together, we wouldn’t need anything or anyone. Everything was OK. It was.
Once I was sure neither of them were going to start yelling for real, I went back downstairs and sat in front of the TV. There was more football, some European game I wasn’t interested in, but it was something to distract me. I checked my phone, but Lau hadn’t texted or called, and it was eating away at me, not knowing where she was or what she was doing. No one else had contacted me, either, and I was a bit surprised that the Summers kid had given up so easily. It wasn’t like him, and it made me apprehensive.
All the way there, I went over and over in my mind what I was going to do, my heart pounding, determination to end this fuelling my own anger at the two idiotic brothers.
Paranoia started to grip me, and I imagined Lau having some kind of family pow-wow where they all decided what was best for me and then tried to browbeat me into their way of doing things. Well they could all just go fuck themselves. Oh but Lau wouldn’t really do that, would she? No, it had seemed like a spur of the moment thing, the way she took off. Where the fuck was she, then?
My self-distraction techniques weren’t working very well; I couldn’t concentrate on the football, and every time a car went past I listened intently to see if it pulled onto the drive. I kept checking my phone, although I would have heard if a call or a text had come through. The babies were quiet, but I started to wonder what I was going to do if they needed feeding, so I checked the fridge, and found enough milk for both of them. Lau wouldn’t even run off spontaneously without making sure we were all looked after. I thought about texting her, but decided against it, then decided for it, then decided against it again as I was half way through a text that sounded angrier than I intended. Come on, Lau, how long does it take to ‘get bread’ or whatever the fuck it is you’re really doing?
I opened my emails, and found the links I’d sent to myself from work. I had a good look at the jobs in the links, and downloaded an application form for one of them. The job was in Aberdeen. I started filling out the form.
A short journey later and I was outside Beth and Jay’s house, vaguely noticing that Dec’s car was also outside. I ran up the path and rang the doorbell. Beth answered the door.
‘Is Jay here?’
‘Yes, he’s talking to Dec –’
‘I need to talk to him.’
‘They’re in his office.’
I pushed past Beth, a bit rudely, crossed the hallway and shoved the door to Jay’s office wide open. Jay was sitting in his leather swivel chair, and Dec was perched on the edge of the desk. They both looked at me in surprise as I barged in. I didn’t wait to be greeted.
‘Jay, you need to sort this out with Matt. I know you’re having some kind of man-off about it, but he’s talking about being better off without his family. You can’t let that happen. I know you’re both ridiculously attached to your pride, but one of you needs to give in, and I don’t think it’s going to be Matt. You said some hurtful things to him, and he’s got himself all worked up about it, so whatever it is you’re not talking about, you need to talk about it, sort it out, apologise, whatever it takes. I don’t care how you do it, but do it. Please.’
I ground to a halt as Jay and Dec stared at me. Dec started to speak, but Jay interrupted him.
I was winding myself up to start again, and Jay’s short reply took the wind out of my sails.
‘OK, I’ll do whatever it takes, like you asked. Mr Summers here was just pointing out something very similar, and I’ve had my wife and my mother bending my bloody ear for the last two days, so just to get a bit of peace, OK, I agree, I’ve been an arse, I’ll sort it out with Matty.’
My voice trembled, and I felt a bit wobbly, I was so relieved.
‘You’ve got to talk to him.’
‘I know. Give me a minute, I just want to finish something off in here. Turn the printer on, Dec.’
‘No need to thank me, Laura. I’m sorry I’ve upset you all, I was pretty stupid. Why don’t you both get a drink? I won’t be long here.’
And so, dismissed, Dec and I went into the kitchen where we were joined by Beth.
Dec answered, as I was too shaken to speak.
‘He’s going over in a minute, to, er, what was it Lau? Do whatever it takes. To sort it out.’
Beth leaned on the counter, sagging with relief. She looked at me and put an arm round my shoulders as I tried to take it in, that Jay had actually backed down. He hadn’t even seemed that angry, and I wondered what was different about either Jay’s temperament or the approach he had been subjected to, to make him react like this instead of digging his heels in like Matt had.
‘Oh sweetheart, thank goodness. What did you say?’
Beth looked up at Dec and put her hand on his arm.
‘Well, I just pointed out how things nearly went pear shaped with him and me a few years ago, because I stopped talking, and asked him if he wanted the same thing to happen with Matt. I’d only just started, really, and then Lau barged in like some kind of fucking scary mad woman on a mission and told him that Matt was thinking about ditching the family and he needed to sort it, which kind of sealed it, I think.’
Beth turned to me, eyes wide.
‘Oh Laura, Matt was going to do what?’
‘He said he’d be better off without his family, and he told me a while ago he was offered a job in Norwich, I’m just worried he’s going to do something impulsive.’
‘But James is going to sort it out?’
‘Yeah, he said he’s coming in a minute. I really hope he can say something to stop all this.’
‘Did James say anything else?’
‘Not to me, but I didn’t really give him a chance.’
‘I’d only just got here myself.’
‘Well he’s going to have to do some serious talking when he gets back, then. I let him get away with grunting too much, he never says what’s on his mind. Not this time, though.’
While Beth thought about how she was going to extract information from Jay, I suddenly remembered what I’d said to Matt when I left home. I’d lied to him. I never lied. Was it still a lie if he knew it was a lie? He’d known it was a lie, right? The sort of lie you tell when you don’t want to say ‘I’m going to see your brother so I can make him talk to you and stop you doing this ridiculous thing’, so instead say ‘We need bread’, when we have at least two loaves in the bread bin and several in the freezer. Well there’s an easy way round it, Laura Scott.
‘Beth, have you got a loaf of bread?’
Beth looked at me in complete confusion.
‘Yeah. I told Matt I was going out for bread. I’ve never lied to him.’
‘Oh. Oh Laura, that’s so lovely. Here, sweetheart.’
She gave me a smile, reached behind her and took a loaf out of the cupboard as Jay came in, holding an envelope.
‘Do you know where my car keys are, Beth?’
‘Hanging up on the key hook? Oh no, silly me, they’re never there, are they. In your pocket? By the phone? Still in the car? Office? Jacket? Shall I continue?’
‘If you like, but I can’t get going and sort this out with Matty until I find them, so more help, less sarcasm, thanks.’
‘Come with me, Jay, I can bring you back later.’
‘Maybe you’d better, James, it took you an hour to find your keys yesterday.’
‘Oh alright. Are you sure, Laura?’
‘Yeah. Are you ready now?’
Jay nodded, and we left, Dec staying to play on the X-box with Cal.
Jay seemed nervous in the passenger seat, and twisted the envelope in his hands until it was screwed up and grubby.
‘Thanks, Jay. I’m sorry I just went off like that, but I didn’t know what else to do.’
‘It’s OK, Laura. I think I needed a bit of a rocket. I’m not good at talking. I don’t really talk much to Matty, or haven’t for a while, not about important stuff. I’m a bit worried about what I’m going to say. He’s better with words than me.’
‘Just say what you’re feeling. It doesn’t have to be clever or fancy, just true.’
‘Thanks. That helps. You probably want to bang our heads together.’
‘It had occurred to me. But coming over and giving you a verbal slap was almost as satisfying.’
‘Has it been bad? With Matty, I mean. He can … he hasn’t for a long time, but he can get pretty down, has these black moods. It can be grim.’
‘No, not down exactly, but he’s been angry and won’t talk to me about it. I know there’s a lot of brother stuff between you that I won’t ever get to the bottom of –’
‘Laura, can I ask you something? About his MS?’
As a change of subject, it was about as abrupt as they came, but I went with it.
‘How likely is it to come back?’
‘Oh. Well, it isn’t something that goes away, really, it’s always there, and a lot of it depends on how well he looks after himself. It’s impossible to say, Jay; flare-ups are unpredictable to a large extent. Why do you ask?’
‘Well, is stress a cause?’
‘It can be.’
‘I think one of the reasons I overreacted the other night was I’m worried if he gets this job at Raiders, he’ll be stressed and it’ll make him ill. He’s just got over the last bout, he’s coped with getting married, having the twins, all that, really well, but it’s full-on at Raiders, busy, demanding. I know his job at the moment has taken the MS into account, I’m not sure Raiders would, or could, to the same extent.’
‘He has to make that decision for himself. It’s lovely that you want to protect him, but to be honest, the last few days have been stressful enough to be a trigger in themselves. And staying in a job he’s unhappy in could too. There’s just no knowing. He works well under pressure, and he’s a lot better at being aware of how he’s feeling these days.’
‘You’ve been good for him.’
‘Hm, don’t know about that, but he talks to me about stuff, usually, which I gather he hasn’t always.’
‘Ha ha, Jesus, no, getting Matty to talk about anything seriously has always been a bit of a challenge, although Dec seems to have managed it from time to time. OK, well, I’ll try the talking, and see how it goes.’
‘Good luck. He won’t be happy to see you.’
‘Used to that. I can brazen it out.’